SXSW – South by Southwest

March 12, 2023 – 9:31 am

Credit: Amanda Schnaider

Today was another intense day. I’ve been to some keynotes at SXSW, like Amy Webb’s – which was great, but I was blown away by Esther Perel’s keynote, (The Other AI: The Rise of Artificial Intimacy and What It Means for Us), because it deals with the issue of moving away from human relationship, and that is an important question for me, and I hope for you too.

I am a technology lover. I travel the world looking for news that can help me understand the alternatives that are emerging in different fields. Almost ten years ago, I participated in the development of an application that can measure the presence of users on social networks. So, as a developer, I plunged headlong into a universe of intense transformations and discoveries: a universe of artificial intelligence that has the ability to absorb attention.

Years later, I was introduced to a new category of data that, when turned into creative insights, affects the performance of digital campaigns in surprising ways. AI, which is in charge of some of the key devices in our homes, would become the focal point of my work.

I am literally immersed in AI from the moment I wake up to my virtual assistant’s wake-up call. But I never let that involvement take up space and, above all, the importance of human relationships in my life. Hence my interest in the lecture by Esther Perel, a psychotherapist, book author and podcaster, who spoke about how these sources of technology affect our health and mental balance.

Perel argues that intensive engagement with technology, through digital devices that make artificial intelligence ever-present in our daily lives, tends to disrupt our expectations of relationships with other human beings, as intimacy begins to matter less. In my lectures, I usually say that smartphones have become protagonists in all environments. If in the past a person was at home and watched television and sometimes checked messages on a mobile phone, today that role is reversed. People look at their smartphones and quickly check a TV show. This is because only one of the two has active artificial intelligence and supports the interaction of finger gestures that make a daily scroll of 300 meters rejecting or accepting what appeared on the screen.

Perel provoked the audience by commenting on it with the social bias of human interaction, in a common scene we live in our homes. “You spend the day in front of the computer. When he gets home, he has no energy for anything but watching TV. Constantly motionless, he will be looking at his smartphone at the same time. To make matters worse, you look at the person next to you and see that person is doing the exact same thing. Of course, it is not difficult to understand from this why people have less sex”, he concludes. But this lack of interaction is not limited to family members, it shows the inability to experience a situation or relationship that depends on linear communication with a close person, whether at work, at home, in studies or in a romantic relationship. This is how the messaging connection replaces face-to-face dialogue in what she calls artificial intimacy.

Perel gives an example of the lack of this human interaction: “Many times we call a person to reveal our most intimate secrets, expose our vulnerability, and the person communicates with monosyllabic answers. Then you realize she wasn’t paying attention to everything that was said,” so technology is changing interpersonal relationships and affecting the mental health of many people. The problem is that this distancing from human contact is masked by excessive connectedness, which is modern loneliness. It has already been proven that mega-exposure to internet connections severely impairs men’s social skills, as well as creates anxiety and depression in women.

The problem is that at some point we may need the support of a friend, so we’ll call him, but he won’t be able to answer because he’ll be messaging on some relationship app or trying to get likes for his social media posts. At that point we will have to resort to virtual contacts. “When only technology can comfort us, it will be a sign that humanity has become ill,” he says.

We won’t let that happen.

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